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Norwalk DPW chief delivers Walk Bridge, East Avenue update, in spite of McCarthy’s objection

David McCarthy

Norwalk Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E).

NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk woman got the answers she was seeking Tuesday about the East Avenue widening project, but only because Michelle Maggio stepped in.

Sarah Hunter asked at the beginning of the Public Works Committee meeting for an update but was informed by Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) that East Avenue was not on the agenda. At the end of the meeting Maggio, a Republican representing District C, said she’d like an update. Tidbits that ensued included the possibility that the state might pick up a $3 million or $4 million tab to clean up a “mountain” of hazardous waste at Norwalk’s Public Works Center as part of the reconstruction of the railroad bridge over the Norwalk River. Plus, the railroad bridge will not open for four years if the proposals being discussed are enacted.

At the beginning of the meeting, Hunter protested McCarthy’s brush-off by saying that she thought the East Avenue project might relate to the sidewalk issue on the agenda.  McCarthy said no, and asked Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord if there was a way she could get some information. Alvord asked her for an email address, but said the East Avenue project is “pretty much in limbo” because the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) is preoccupied with replacing the Walk Bridge, which failed twice last summer, causing Metro-North commuters much hassle.

Plans to widen East Avenue go back years. The state would like to lower the road under the East Avenue railroad bridge; it will be widened and there will be room for a bike lane, he has said. Opponents say that East Norwalk does not want the truck traffic that will ensue from lowering the road.

Three properties are being taken by eminent domain for the project. Michele (Michael) Napoleone was the only property owner resisting that process, as he had lived in his home at 220 East Ave. for 47 years. Napoleone died in August at the age of 84.

DOT intends to turn the property into parking for the train station after using it as a staging area for heavy equipment involved in the project.

Maggio asked for an update as part of the segment in the meeting where Council members can ask for updates on DPW’s projects. “Now we can answer Sandra’s questions on number 59, East Avenue improvements,” she said.

“No, he’s going to email her,” McCarthy said.

“Can I just get a tiny little update?” Maggio said.

The ensuing discussion was less than four minutes long.

The state has acquired all three of the properties, Alvord said. Only the deli on the corner of Fort Point Street is still occupied and the tenants expect to move out in the spring, he said.

“The state intends to demolish all three of those structures sometime probably in the late spring of next year,” Alvord said. “They’re going to turn it into a parking space to begin with until they need it for use as laydown point for the bridge.”

But DPW has had no success in getting information from CDOT about East Avenue because the entire focus is on the Walk Bridge, Alvord said. CDOT has its eye on the sewage treatment plant and the Public Works Center, both part of the same complex on Smith Street, across the river from the Maritime Aquarium, because it needs a place to put the construction equipment needed to rebuild the bridge, Alvord said.

“What we think we might do, we have this thing called Martin’s Mountain at the treatment center,” Alvord said. “We are going to suggest that we’d be happy to offer them that space as a laydown area if they are willing to pay the cost of shipping off all the material. That would save us $3 million or $4 million – actually our latest estimate is $11 million, but when they are doing a $500 million project that is nothing to them. They might be willing to do it because they need another acre of laydown space and we don’t use it now just because it’s a contaminated hill.”

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) asked about the expense. Alvord said the latest estimate for the project is $468 million.

Alvord said the problem is that the New Haven line cannot be shut down, so it has to be done in phases. CDOT’s latest plan is to close two track down at a time for the project, which will take four years, he said. CDOT will rebuild one half at a time. The bridge will not open for marine traffic during those four years, he said.

The new bridge will either lift up from one side or go straight up, he said.

End of discussion.

McCarthy’s time concerns at the meeting also affected another Norwalk citizen. Although the agenda specified that public speakers would only be allowed three minutes, McCarthy allowed Diane Lauricella to speak for four minutes before interrupting her as she was thanking the committee for continuing household hazardous waste collection day, which she said she founded under former Mayor Bill Collins.

She protested, asking for another minute. “There is really no one here,” she said.

“We have a lot of things to get through,” McCarthy said.

Lauricella demurred. There was no one else in the audience except this reporter. Councilman David Watts (D-District A), who is often  talkative, was not there. The meeting flew by and was over in 41 minutes.

During the Zoning Commission’s public hearing regarding the then-proposed settlement with the Al Madany Islamic Center, McCarthy said it was an outrage that citizens were only allowed to speak for three minutes. Concert Hall was packed with citizens – even with the three-minute limit the hearing was three hours long.
Correction, 4:23 pm, Sarah Hunter, not Sandra Hunter.

10 comments

diane c2 November 13, 2014 at 7:18 am

And so the bullying continues……

Who does Councilman David McCarthy think he is that he shuts down a resident/taxpayer’s request for information on an item that is now, and has been for YEARS, on the monthly Public Works Committee agenda? The message he either deliberately or inadvertently sends to other Norwalk residents considering public comment is “do not attend public meetings with the desire to address my committee – I will intimidate and embarrass you”.

What is to become of the Council and city leadership when information, dialogue and debate are stifled by bullies?

Kudos to Councilwoman Michelle Maggio for standing up to Mr. McCarthy and defending Ms. Sarah Hunter’s legitimate request for a status on a project and for accurately pointing out that the item was indeed on the agenda! If anything, Mr. McCarthy should have had the decency as Committee Chair to suspend the rules and move the project list item up on the agenda so Ms. Hunter could observe the status update to the Committee and then choose on her own whether to stay for the balance of the agenda business. It is not only common courtesy, but is accepted protocol by most other more diplomatic and experienced Committee chairs.

To Mr. McCarthy, to be certain, there is nothing in FOI regulations that compels you to even have public comment at meetings, much less engage in taxpayer requests for information. However, as you are an elected official one would think you’d embrace the spirit of the law and err on the side of generous public participation, especially on an evening when apparently only two residents and one reporter were present. And then to initially deny a fellow committee member’s request for information is completely unacceptable!

Shame on you for bullying Ms. Hunter, Ms. Lauricella and yes, even your counterpart, Councilwoman Maggio.

Mike Mushak November 13, 2014 at 8:13 am

Good article. Hearing Hal Alvord say there is room for bike lanes on a widened East Avenue is truly encouraging. Interesting as well to contrast McCarthy’s words and actions on the 3 minute rule. Just last week I spoke for 5 minutes to the Planning Committee chaired by Doug Hempstead, without fuss. Well, until I was called a “disgusting human being” by Mr. McCarthy’s close friend and Planning Commissioner Victor Cavallo who followed me, because I simply called for the Planning Commission to fulfill its legal responsibility to plan and coordinate all development in Norwalk, a responsibility Mr. Cavallo fantasizes doesn’t exist even though the language is clear as day in the City Charter and CT General Statutes. But I digress.

The Bike Walk Task Force presented a carefully revised ” Complete Streets” design for East Avenue in September to the Traffic Authority, that recommended keeping the 4 travel lanes from Winfield to St. John from the original proposal, but redesigned the sidewalks without widening the right of way to be the kind of attractive brick-lined sidewalks we just got on Cedar Street. Also, we eliminated the hard to maintain grass strip between the street and sidewalk, and replaced it with a bike lane in the widened street that will effectively keep traffic 5 feet away from the sidewalk, which slows speeding traffic, protects pedestrians , and provides for much needed bike lanes in that stretch (the East Norwalk train station has one of the highest rates of commuter traffic among stations on the New Haven line, like 30% or so, that walks or rides bikes to the station.)

We also recommended NOT lowering the roadway 3 feet to the full interstate highway truck height , but keeping it at 12 feet it is now ( it will still need another foot of lowering to maintain the existing height to accommodate the thicker steel beam needed to span a wider opening with 4 lanes and sidewalks on both sides).

Lowering the road to make 14 feet 6 inches will require much steeper and dangerous grades up to 12% surrounding the bridge including on sidewalks and busy driveways into the station parking lot and the East Side Cafe lot, and on Fort Point St., exceeding our local and state safety standards and creating safety hazards especially in winter.

Lowering the road to create a 14 ft-6 inch clearance also encourages truck traffic to use East Ave as a shortcut to the South Norwalk industrial zones off of 95, a situation that will increase traffic and noise in the East Ave corridor that is poised for some smart growth development as a vibrant walkable transit-oriented corridor with more businesses with housing above to create a real attractive small town mixed- use feel and commercial strip for East Norwalk. Creating a corridor of huge speeding trucks conflicts with that future potential. The trucks figure out routes now to get around, and there is much precedent in other towns all along Metro North’s corridor that have replaced bridges without lowering the roadways (Post Rd in Darien, Greenwich, Fairfield, etc.).

I am happy to hear that folks want to discuss the proposed East Ave. widening as now is the time to talk about it, as the state proceeds with its bridge replacement project, and not waiting until we are ready to start the project and it is too late to change anything as we have seen happen before.

Perhaps Mr McCarthy will put it on the agenda soon, as it seems Councilwoman Maggio would like to have that important discussion sooner rather than later. Thank you Ms. Maggio!

David McCarthy November 13, 2014 at 9:10 am

This article is exactly why I don’t read or participate in any way in this blog. I politely told Ms. Hunter that this item was not on the agenda and asked for Mr. Alvord to follow up with her. I hope he will still do so, as my suggestion will net her more information than the 2 or 3 sentence answer she received on the fly last night.

To characterize my response to Ms. Maggio when she asked if Ms. Hunter could get an update as an “objection” is a stretch, as the entire conversation is here, verbatim. Ms. Maggio asked the question, I stated that she was going to be emailed, and when asked again, I allowed the information to be given, while realizing she would be getting a less precise answer than if she waited.

To compare an off-agenda request for information that was going to be thoroughly and politely handled to the squelching of public input at what was supposed to be a public hearing (and was advertised as such) is an abomination and a demonstration of the agenda at work here. Yet, I support and fought for the freedom of speech and press at work here.

Ms. Cece is correct, there is no requirement whatsoever to allow public comment. We do so up to the limits of reasonableness. Ms. Hunter’s request was handled reasonably and Ms. Lauricella was allowed to speak for almost 4 minutes and at the point at which I interrupted her she was beginning an oral history of the hazardous waste collection process and how she created it 25+ years ago. Last month when she wished to speak, she was given over 5 minutes and allowed to make a subsequent statement when she claimed it would add value.

In the past, others have sought to interrupt meetings by shouting and accusing people of crimes and have had to be asked to leave. This is an unfortunate by-product of the process. To run a meeting appropriately one needs to make a decision from time to time, and I do so, and I have no need to apologize for it. I will add that it is also not bullying, and to call it this cheapens the effort to eliminate bullying, an effort I fully support.

Kathleen Montgomery November 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

Just to clarify, the effort to eliminate bullying was targeted for children only and not adult bullying in the workplace. Huge difference.

Mike Mushak November 13, 2014 at 11:34 am

Thank you for your explanation, Mr. McCarthy. I am sure it will not satisfy everyone but your reply is appreciated just the same.

In reference to your comment about people being asked to leave meetings (that would be me you are referring to), the public still has no idea or explanation of why the “Urban Core ” map was so drastically altered and gerrrymandered around specific properties by DPW, compared to the actual official Urban Core map used by the Redevelopment Agency. The DPW map made no sense whatsoever, since it divided many blocks right in the middle, and even made one side of many streets “urban” requiring concrete sidewalks and the other side “suburban” where cheaper and more tree-friendly asphalt sidewalks were allowed. How on earth can that make any sense, that your house might be urban and your neighbors all around you aren’t?

The Redevelopment Urban Core map at least used more natural common sense borders to define what the urban core was, which was traditional downtowns and commercial areas. Please explain the reasoning behind the DPW Urban Core Map that just appeared out of nowhere and contradicted the traditional Urban Core Map other departments have used for decades, including at a state and federal level, and I will be satisfied that at least you tried to deal with this ongoing frustrating mystery that affects thousands of taxpaying property owners, instead of making it all about me who demanded a clear explanation that we never got, even to this day. We will be waiting for that.

Also, please put the East Avenue widening on the agenda for a discussion as soon as possible, regardless of its current postponed status which is only temporary. I will be following up with with an email to the Council and Mayor about this. There is no reason we should not be planning ahead carefully for such an important project that the state is starting and which is requiring the city to follow up with its own work behind it, and the Public Works Committee is a perfect place to start. This would be in the best interest of the many small businesses and thousands of residents who will be affected by this project.

Thank you. Good to see you engaged again with the public. And congratulations on helping your neighbors in Rowayton deal with an overscale dock application that may damage the shellfish beds and ruin the natural scenery which is protected under the powerful but long-ignored (by P and Z staff) state-approved Norwalk Harbor Management Plan (NHMP). . It might be helpful to read the NHMP here, http://www.norwalkct.org/index.aspx?NID=963, especially the Goals and Objectives in Chapter 2 (2-6, 2-8, and 2-10), and in Chapter 5, that covers Rowayton except for the Five Mile River that is under the perview of the Five Mile River Commission that never completed a Harbor Management Plan (even though they should have years ago).

If you need any help or advice, call me. I have long argued that Norwalk’s P and Z Department ignores important land use laws, and the history has been that the NHMP has long been ignored by our P and Z staff even though they are REQUIRED by law to help enforce it, including coordinating the Planning, Zoning, and Harbor Commissions to enforce federal and state environmental protection laws (Goal and Objective 2.8 in Chapter 2). In the 6 years I served on the ZC, I never once heard the NHMP mentioned until I brought it up, and was ridiculed for doing so. As you read it you will find out why so many residents are so angry about our P and Z staff ignoring important laws like this.

Mark Chapman November 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Mr. McCarthy,
This article is exactly why I don’t read or participate in any way in this blog…

This statement is so Yogi Berra-ish, kind of like, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” In our two years, you have left 67 comments under your own name. Not in the same league as L Witherspoon, but certainly more than “I don’t read or participate. That was invalidated the first time you read and participated.

You say potato, I say potato peels…
I was not at the meeting, but I would tend, from listening and watching over the past few years, to believe Nancy’s reporting. She gave credit where it was due, and called out hypocrisy where it was needed. Really – a long agenda, lots to get through, only one or two speakers in the house? And you were so offended by the time limit at the marathon mosque hearing. For someone who seems to frequently cut speakers off, your insistence on running way overtime in Concert Hall to continue making the redundant point so many others were making, seems, well, odd – almost as if you had an agenda.

“…An abomination and a demonstration of the agenda at work here. Yet, I support and fought for the freedom of speech and press at work here.”

Ah, the agenda. Statements and arguments do tend to take on different characterizations depending on who is doing the talking, and most often is accompanied by a pronoun switch. You will most often hear the second or third-person pronoun used with “agenda,” as in “your agenda,” “her agenda” and “their agenda.” This is replaced in the first person by thing like “I simply am stating facts.”

Here’s an example of our “agenda.” Our mission statement says, “NancyOnNorwalk.com shines a spotlight on Norwalk’s city government, schools, social service agencies and institutions, looking beneath the surface to let taxpayers know how and why their money is being spent. We look at the individuals charged with doing the people’s business, the boards and commissions, the decisions and what those decisions mean, all to help educate the reader so they can make informed choices when choosing their leaders and to help keep community leaders accountable.”

And regarding your fight for freedom of the press – when, exactly, did that take place? It sure wasn’t on the Council floor when a Freedom of the Press resolution was introduced after the former mayor tried to shut down Nancy after the ridiculously overblown recorder incident. (I seem to recall the resolution being called a meaningless non-binding resolution and a waste of council time.)

To refresh, the recorder was left on, the mayor walked over and stood next to it and had a conversation, some of which was picked up. The mayor was informed she intended to do a story (for The Daily Voice at the time), whereupon Robert Maslan contacted Nancy with a threat of legal action. Nancy, who had already discussed this with her supervisors, turned over the threatening email to TDV brass, who promptly stuck their tails between their legs. After telling Nancy to not have any more contact or discussion about the incident, TDV brass wrung hands for days, then issued a “don’t write anything that might upset the mayor” edict. She quit, and NoN was born.

Not exactly the narrative we’ve seen from you in Op-Eds, but it is how it went down. You publicly convicted her of criminal behavior with your statements (you do like that word, “criminal”), but the state attorney’s office said there was nothing there and tossed it. The city and state stonewalled us when we tried to find out how much the whole sordid mess cost the taxpayers.

By the way, my father fought in the last war that was actually defending our freedom and freedom of the press. He was in the Navy and wounded three times in the South Pacific. My brother fought in Vietnam, which had nothing to do with defending America’s freedoms. I applaud and honor those who have answered the call, as you did, but let’s be honest.

And a few other points:
Ms. Cece is correct, there is no requirement whatsoever to allow public comment. (And what else did she say?)
In the past, others have sought to interrupt meetings by shouting and accusing people of crimes. (See above)
I will add that it is also not bullying, and to call it this cheapens the effort to eliminate bullying, an effort I fully support. (You supported this in a meaningless non-binding resolution that drew complaints given who was initially listed as sponsors)…

Diane C2 November 13, 2014 at 6:22 pm

With his apparent state of denial, I hope Mr. McCarthy will at least admit that the item Ms. Hunter referred to was indeed on the agenda, as it always is. Legitimately as an ongoing project, worthy of at least monthly updates to our elected officials.

To Mr. Mushak, I appreciate your recent interest in the East Avenue corridor, but want you to know this project has been actively brewing for more than 10 years, and much more is at stake than a bicycle lane. As of this writing, the approvals are a done deal, and as Mr. Alvord is so adept at pointing out, any back peddling will risk the city losing hundreds of thousands in state money for the project. Rational? No. Sensible? No. But the modus operandi is that our elected and appointed officials usually lack the political will and courage to walk away from funds, even when they are earmarked for ridiculous projects.
Many East Norwalkers and others continue to vow to shut this project down for good, unless and until Mr. Alvord, who doesn’t live here or pay taxes here, agrees to listen to the wishes of those who do. Our Common Council and Mayor need to listen and hear, too.
Bad enough Mr. Alvord and others with similar “visions” have participated in what resulted in the taking of 3 private properties, one of which was the home of vibrant, healthy, 84 year old widower, who was tormented by the state goons to get out, ignored by his state representatives and almost all the local officials. Instead of spending his retirement years in relative peace (yes, abutting the tracks), his final 12 months were a living hell of stress, angst and anxiety – ultimately becoming gravely ill and succumbing to the torment in August. May he rest in peace and may he never be forgotten by those of us who continue to fight this injustice, and this awful project that caused it.

Piberman November 13, 2014 at 8:28 pm

In years past, indeed several decades ago, the 3 minute rule was in effect. But back then Council or Committee members typically asked questions or made comments about the presenters comments. So just about every presenter felt they had something worthwhile to say. Because they were treated with RESPECT. Moreover, often presenters sent written briefs to members before the hearings or meetings. So some very purposeful discussions often ensued. One beneficiary of tthose couteous practices was that citizens attended meetings in substantial numbers. Simply because they were actually participating usefully, not as just “baggage” to be dismissed in 3 minutes. Citizens were once really proud if their governance.

Sarah Hunter November 14, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I’ve never left a comment here before.

I am “A Norwalk woman…” referenced in the article. I’d like to say how I ‘felt’ the exchange went Wednesday night. But I have more things to say as well.

Nancy’s article nailed it. I felt ‘shut down’ by Mr. McCarthy and Hal Alvord even though they were very polite about it. I appreciated the offer to get a response from Mr. Alvord by email, but it’s not ideal.

The problems with an “I’ll email you” offer:

• Information in email is not presented to the Council Public Works Committee members.
Council members give these topics their full attention, together, and discuss it openly. I get to hear what they think. That’s why we do government in open meetings, not in emails.

• Public record: It won’t be recorded in the minutes or make the public record for reference later.

• Public scrutiny: An email to me could be wrong, have significant omissions, etc, without any council or public scrutiny. How the heck would I know if it was wrong?

• Media not included: If you move the dialogue to a private email between one citizen and one member of DPW, it will not be reported in the media. That part is critical, because a lot of citizens won’t show up to those meetings, but a lot will read up on what transpired.

Perhaps those 4 reasons were overlooked when the email offer was made, an “oops, I was just trying to be helpful” moment – but even with the best intentions, it would take the East Avenue update off the public record, out of the media, and out of dialogue with the Common Council Committee.

There are problems with the current “public comment” policy (and the problem isn’t that it’s 3 minutes):

• Public “comments” first? Public comments should be first AND last. Pre-game comments aren’t dialogue, and I understand why. But, there’s no chance to clarify or refute whatever response comes from an official. I could say “Will East Avenue be the new Exit 15?” Mr. Alvord could answer “I like cheeseburgers.” It wouldn’t matter, because I’m not by rules supposed to respond to his response. Any crumb of follow-up is a gift offered by officials, not a right.

• Coherent comments? Not having the right to say “I didn’t ask about cheeseburgers” puts a commenter in a tough spot. I have to anticipate the official’s responses to my comment and also address what it could be, while making one coherent comment. It’s a babbling mess hazard.

• Penalty on a Technicality: Comments are limited to Agenda items. This makes sense, but who sets the scope of discussion per agenda item? What if my comment might be related? (Contract approval for unspecified sidewalks perhaps on East Avenue, for instance).

Ugh, we’re down in the weeds of why most citizens don’t engage in local government.

Saves can happen! Councilwoman Michelle Maggio gets a round of applause. She successfully put my concern back in-bounds at the meeting! She’s a bright spot, deserving of respect for representing her constituents so meaningfully.

I knew there wasn’t an Agenda item named “East Avenue-What up?” I wondered if an agenda item on sidewalks, “various other locations” could include East Ave, so I asked also for an East Ave update. Why on earth would I care about sidewalk contracts? First, who cares why, it’s my tax dollars. Second, because connections can be buried in the mix for approval with actual agenda items.

In the elevator after leaving the meeting, I was talking with David McCarthy, Hal Alvord and Michelle Maggio. I raised the idea for public comment at both the beginning and end of meetings. I was told by Hal that they tried it but meetings dragged on too long.

Okay, let’s do more public meetings with dialogue …
Let’s have a fresh discussion about East Avenue. Give the public an update and let us ask new questions relevant to what is going on now or being planned next in Norwalk. Here’s my first question:

Is the East Avenue plan partly meant to provide a detour for I-95’s big trucks and traffic overflow that will result from a new mall at Exit 15, where cars will need to move slowly?

Let’s look at those meeting policies, see if we can improve them to be more welcoming to the public. Let’s not put what should be open government dialogue into emails. Let’s revisit plans before contracts get signed, if new potentially connected items have arisen since the last public discussion. Let’s add East Ave to the agenda for Redevelopment and Planning joint meeting on November 19th.

Also, I’m really impressed by all the comments in this trail, and agree with the vast majority of it.

diane c2 November 14, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Sarah, brilliant! This hits on the very core of the problem. Bad enough elected officials and staff don’t encourage public participation, but they actually overtly and covertly discourage it.

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